On Opinion Formation

November 7, 2005

Bjørn Stærk has an essay up that starts with discussing the "media revolution" and follows through with a discussion on the nature of opinions versus knowledge.  I liked this article, because I am well aware that even when I have an opinion about a topic, the quality or quantity of my background information can always be called into question.  I don’t like dispensing my opinion when I don’t feel that I have a good source or basis for it.  Some people (usually non blog-readers!) have accused me of not having opinions, when what they really mean is that they don’t know what they are, because I don’t spit them out indiscriminately. 

I have three rules-of-thumb that I usually abide by when gauging the strength of my own opinions:

1.  There is always another side to the story.  (This doesn’t mean that I don’t know what it is, but if I’m looking at an issue from just the one side, I’m pretty sure that I’m missing something.)

2.  There is always an exception to the rule. 

3.  Humility is important, especially since absolute certainty is usually a waste of time.  Reasonable certainty is (arguably) possible. 

If I think that my opinion was formed without access to as much information as is reasonable, with more than one viewpoint represented, or if I am tempted to make a hard and fast rule, or if I am so attached to one opinion that I am not willing to look at further evidence, (displaying in myself a painful lack of humility), than that opinion is not worth dissemination.

I shall duly note that I also don’t like being misunderstood any more than the next person, especially if I don’t have a way to correct (or at least challenge) the misperception.  I’m sure that adds to my reluctance to spout opinions left and right.  🙂 

UPDATE: I love Mudville Gazette’s Open Post!  🙂

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